David Cronenberg loses the plot
An improbably young billionaire decides to get a haircut and heads out through the chaos of New York City in his bullet proof limo for an adventure to the edge of reason.David Cronenberg - until recently, a name synonymous with the fringes of everyday cinema. Early low budget efforts like Rabid and Shivers clung steadfastly to their horror heritage while also delivering intimate and disturbing takes on the material. The 80s brought new scale and vigour, in the form of the startling Scanners, bizarre Videodrome and, perhaps his finest film, 1986s The Fly.
The 90s saw experiments with the uncanny (Naked Lunch) and the mainstream (M. Butterfly) while the new millennia has seen Cronenberg move more towards the accessible – especially in his trio of collaborations with Viggo Mortensen. This decade we’ve already been bored by the turgid A Dangerous Method and now comes another challenge in the form of Cosmopolis.
Based on the 2003 book by Don DeLillo, the early trailers for Cosmopolis suggested that it might just be the most familiar Cronenberg film in well over a decade. Giant rats, body horror, unusual sex and more were promised by the rapid series of pulsating images, as well as a star making performance for Robert Pattinson. Sadly, Cosmopolis not only fails to deliver for fans of old-school Cronenberg, it’s also likely to disappoint those who have enjoyed his recent efforts.
The film is a painfully self aware piece of pseudo post-modern nonsense. Our lead is forced out on a purposefully vague and meaningless errand in order to teach us something about the modern world, about the corruption at the heart of society and the meaninglessness of it all. There are long, and stultifying conversations about the fluid value of things, about rodents becoming a form of currency or the attempt to co-opt time as a corporate asset.
Perhaps the arguments are more compelling in DeLillo’s book but on the screen, Cosmopolis just irritates. The script, adapted by Cronenberg himself, reads like the scribbles of a philosophy student who got lost somewhere between Sartre and Baudrillard, full of self conscious cleverness and unconvincing characters.
Key to the failure of Cosmopolis is Robert Pattison’s utterly vapid lead performance. While saddled with Twilight, it was impossible to really discern whether the Brit had any acting talent under that pancake makeup. But now, post Water for Elephants, Bel Ami and now this, it’s clear that the 28 year old simply isn’t up to the task. While original star Colin Farrell would have also struggled with the material, at least he’s capable of sustaining a character or, at the very least, investing a sentence with a little emotion, personality or inflection. Pattison just says stuff, and it quickly becomes boring.
The rest of the cast tries to grab what they can from the meagre script, with young Sarah Gadon managing to outdo Pattison in a competition for most inert performance. Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, Kevin Durand and more do a little better, but only Paul Giamatti is allowed any room to create a real character.
Even Cronenberg’s direction is dull here – the sex is all but snipped away, the moments of violence viewed obliquely, if at all. If the ideas were up to scratch, these lapses would be more forgiveable but, ultimately, Cosmopolis can’t fashion its argument well enough to educate, nor it’s aesthetic well enough to entertain.